Thursday, February 11, 2016

A Page-Hungry Bookworm In The Country House

Since my last interview post was received so well, I decided to invite another literary colleague to the Country House for a chat.

My guest for a cup of tea today is Saradia Chatterjee (better known as Sara): blogger, poet, author, reviewer, and student of literature.  She is the owner of the Page-Hungry Bookworm blog and an ardent activist for human and animal rights. 

Sara, welcome to my Country House and thanks for stopping by for a chat.

Thank you so much for the opportunity!

Let’s start out with a question about your blog.  How did the Page-Hungry Bookworm come into being?

I must confess I didn’t start blogging solely due to the fact that I’m an avid reader who wants to share her thoughts on books. I was a clueless Indie writer trying to explore different websites that offered promotional services. That is when I was referred to several review blogs. I realized there are many authors in a similar situation and wanted to do my bit to help them. I also wanted to read the works of contemporary authors who don’t appear in popular media because of their decision to self-publish. I’m very glad I chose to be a book blogger. It’s been a wonderful experience so far.

One of your major passions is social issues, particularly animal rights.  I’ve seen the videos on your YouTube channel, and they are difficult to watch.  How did you come to be so deeply involved in this issue?

I have always been an animal lover but I wasn’t an active participant in any welfare project or something of that kind. My initial interest was wildlife conservation and protection of animals in the wild. While doing some research in that field, I had the chance to interact with some animal activists. I was shocked to learn about the numerous cases of animal cruelty around the world and thought that I should join others in spreading awareness. Many people don’t have much idea about the unthinkable plight of thousands of animals. I believe it is necessary to speak up about this issue as it is often ignored by those in power.

You mentioned that you prefer writing romantic stories rather than reading them.  Why is that?

I haven’t been able to explain that to myself either. Frankly, I used to read very few romances before I started my blog. But I wrote a romance novel and a couple of short stories which have romantic elements in them. I don’t enjoy reading romances because most of them are rather farcical. As I have mentioned in my blog, maybe I just didn’t happen to read that one romance novel that can change my viewpoint about the genre. As to why I like writing romances, I have only one theory. The first story I ever wrote was a romance and I suppose that is why I have some kind of attachment to it.

Please give us some examples of your “other-worldly" philosophy.

My other worldly philosophy consists of ideas such as poetic justice which are far removed from the reality of this planet. But I believe that faith in goodness and justice is absolutely necessary in the struggle for peace.

You’re writing a collection of short stories in which all the protagonists are animals.  Where did the inspiration come from?  How is the writing progressing?

The inspiration obviously came from my love for animals. I wanted to write about animal heroes and so I thought of this book. The writing isn’t really progressing well because I’ve been very busy. I really hope I can make time for this soon.

You have two works currently for sale on Amazon: “Beyond Tragedies” and “In The End.”  Tell us something about them.

Beyond Tragedies is the first book I published. It is general fiction bordering on romance. The main theme of this book is restoring faith in the power of hope.

In the End is a psychological short story. It’s just a few pages long and has a surprise ending. This story was inspired by a real life incident I learned about in a news article. The focus here is on a woman who is battling disease and depression and what happens after she chooses to give up on life.

When you’re comfortably curled up on your sofa and reading for fun, which authors are you most likely to read?

It changes from time to time. Right now, I mostly read Indie books. But if I’m reading for fun, I like to read non-fiction. A lot of people will find this odd but since I’m a student of literature I’m always dealing with fiction, and in this case, non-fiction books are like a breath of fresh air.

As a prolific reviewer on Goodreads, how do you handle the grind of reading an endless parade of books without losing your sanity?

I have grown so accustomed to reading that not reading will drive me to the edge of sanity. But yes, too much of it can become a chore. I don’t overburden myself with more books than I think I’m capable of reading. I read till the experience remains a pleasure. The moment I realize it is becoming a grind, I quit reading for a while. I do accept 90% of review requests if they are for genres I prefer. But that doesn’t mean I rush things. I take my time so that I can properly assess the books. Since you mentioned Goodreads, I would like to confess that I don’t admire it a great deal. This is a little unrelated to your question but I thought I might as well talk about it. Goodreads has too many rules and complications which I found very problematic both as a writer and a reviewer. It’s largely dominated by moderators which is not the case with other social media. I’m aware that many authors love Goodreads but I personally didn’t like my experience there. Now I visit Goodreads just to post my reviews.

Some closing thoughts of your choosing?

I look forward to reading plenty more Indie books and interacting with talented authors. Thanks to all the authors and readers who have made my blog possible! Thanks again, Ross, for this interview and good luck for your future projects!

Sara, it was a pleasure to chat with you.  Thanks so much for stopping by, and I wish you great success in all of your endeavors.

Some places where Sara can be found in cyberspace:

Works available on Amazon:


Sunday, February 7, 2016

Who Should YOU Be Thanking?

In your pursuit of your dreams--whatever they happen to be--has someone helped you along the way or given you a boost up the ladder?

Was it a teacher?  A guidance counselor?  A family friend?  Someone who had already achieved success in your chosen field of endeavor?  A boss?  A member of the clergy?  A coach?  Or was it simply a caring stranger who saw some potential in you and felt compelled to help nurture it?

Those of us who have been blessed by the generosity of mentors will readily attest to the life-changing potential that even one helping individual can bring to our lives and our quests.

Perhaps the gift they gave you was encouragement when your energy was being sapped by failures and setbacks; perhaps it was confidence in you when your own was flagging badly; maybe it was stinging--but objective--criticism when you lapsed into arrogance and overconfidence; perhaps it was sage advice and wise counsel that empowered you to solve an "unsolvable" problem; or maybe it was a simple word to the wise when one was warranted.

In my life, I've been blessed with several individuals (outside of family) who took an interest in me and my endeavors.

Ed was a longtime family friend and the musical director/senior organist of his church.  He was a frequent guest in our home during my grammar school years and had encouraged my awakening interest in playing keyboards.  One day--after a considerable amount of persuasion on my part (perhaps badgering would be more accurate), he invited me to stop by the church after Sunday worship services and check out their beautiful pipe organ.  It wasn't huge by modern pipe organ standards, but in my eyes, it was mammoth and far more powerful than any instrument I'd ever played in my young life.  With its pipe chamber housing thousands of pipes of every size and description, it easily monopolized one entire wall of the building and could effortlessly vibrate the choir loft floor with its sonic power, clarity, and beauty.

After giving his offer considerable thought--about two seconds' worth--I jumped at the chance. 

Decades later, the memories of that wonderful day still flood back to me so vividly.  I hope the Good Lord forgives me for rocking His house the way I did.  After several hours of pure bliss, I was still going strong, intoxicated by the soul-stirring sounds that thundered from those pipe chambers and echoed throughout the building.  Finally, Ed had to pry me away from those keyboards; even then, I surrendered them with the utmost reluctance.  As we were leaving, I asked him--in complete earnestness--about becoming one of the church's organists.  Unfortunately, there were already four highly-skilled musicians on his staff; another one was simply not needed.  Complicating the issue was the fact that I couldn't read musical notation to any useful degree.  In his wisdom, he advised me to concentrate on my schoolwork; there would be plenty of time for music later.           

Over the next several years, however, I was a very frequent visitor to Ed's choir loft.  He allowed me to practice any time the church was empty, and gave quite generously of his time and talents in helping me develop my keyboard technique, interpretive skills, and sense of music appreciation.  He introduced me to so many diverse and in-depth facets of musicianship and--in a very real sense--gave me a priceless musical education that I value to this day.

Wherever you are, Ed, thank you so much for a gift that will keep on giving for the rest of my life.

Mrs. Porter:
When we see teachers portrayed in the entertainment media these days, they are sometimes characterized as cool, laid-back, and near-buddies with their students.

Three strikes and you're out, Mrs. Porter.

Mrs. Porter was my eighth-grade teacher: a stern, old-school (pardon the pun), no-nonsense, you're-in-my-house-and-you-will-behave-by-my-rules educator who could easily scare the living hell out of Hulk Hogan, James T. Kirk, Donald Trump, Darth Vader, Arnold Schwarzenegger, J. R. Ewing, Mr. T., and anyone else crazy enough to mess with her.  Barely five feet tall, with piercing blue eyes that were the forerunners of today's lasers, she ruled her classroom with a withering glare, an autocratic demeanor, and a wooden pointer that could annihilate an army of Star Wars fighters armed with high-tech weaponry.

Looking back, she was fortunate that our classroom lacked a National Hockey League referee.  Otherwise, she would've surely been the most penalized teacher in North America.  That wooden pointer of hers was as lethal in her hands as a hockey stick wielded by the NHL's dirtiest player.  I can almost hear the referee now: "Porter ... two minutes for slashing"; "Porter ... two minutes for spearing"; "Porter ... two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct"; "Porter ... five minute major penalty for roughing"; "Porter ... two minutes for high-sticking."

You get the picture.  In every student's life, there is a Mrs. Porter.

In the 21st Century, an incriminating video would be taken with a cell phone, posted on YouTube, and a lawsuit filed.  Mrs. Porter would soon find herself working at a fast-food shack.  But back then, teachers were free to rule their rooms with impunity ... not to mention pointers, rulers, blackjacks, baseball bats, brass knuckles, tear gas, flamethrowers, and anything else that helped maintain order. 

And there was inviolable order in the classrooms of that era.

After my first day in her class, I vowed to find her good side--assuming she had one--and do whatever was necessary to get on it as quickly as possible.

Thankfully, it didn't take long for me to find Mrs. Porter's sole vulnerability: creative writing.

She was returning some extra-credit essays to the handful of students who had chosen to write them. (Did you honestly think I'd pass up a chance to write?)  She approached my desk, handed my essay back to me, and actually gave me the slightest, almost imperceptible trace of a smile!  I couldn't believe it!  Mrs. Porter actually almost-smiled at me!  "This is very good," she said softly.  "The best one in the class."

Direct hit!  I was in.

I'm a firm believer in the philosophy of finding something that works and sticking with it.  Needless to say, I eagerly jumped on every extra-credit writing assignment she ever offered; each time I received the same subdued approval.  I devoted hours to polishing and buffing even everyday writing assignments until they were perfect in my admittedly self-serving effort to please her.  I even wrote some short stories (on my own initiative) and asked her to critique them.  Over the course of the school year, I would occasionally stay after school to work with Mrs. Porter on the rudiments of story construction, sentence structure, phrasing, vocabulary, dialogue, character development, and the joy of editing.

Yes, Virginia, there is joy in editing!

Like Ed had done for me musically, Mrs. Porter seemed to enjoy (or at least not scowl quite so intensely) helping me develop and refine this creative sense that comes so naturally for me.  I know I'm a more effective writer today because of her.

Thank you, Mrs. Porter, for showing me the wondrous power of words and the emotions, images, and entire worlds they are capable of creating. 


Mr. Peterson: 
Mr. Peterson's storehouse of knowledge amazes me to this day.  He was a high school English teacher who also taught American and English Literature, American Law, Civics, and American History.  One detail that stands out in my mind was his shaved head; this was decades before that look was rendered trendy by Jean-Luc Picard of Star Trek fame.

As something of a "hobby," he was also a Shakespearean scholar and could recite from memory the collective works of the Bard.  (I remember having one hell of a time memorizing just the Gettysburg Address and the preamble to the Constitution!)

His was a teaching style I'd never encountered before.  Perhaps succumbing to an unfulfilled acting urge, he would stand at the front of the classroom and literally "act out" significant events of the Revolutionary War era and the founding of America.  His knowledge of historic American and English court trials was encyclopedic, and he recreated those events with the fervor of a highly-trained actor.  He frequently presented one-man shows, deftly switching between the roles of the principals involved in that day's event.  Before attending his class, I'd never even heard of journalist John Peter Zenger who was tried for libel after publishing newspaper articles castigating the British colonial Governor for corruption; nor had I ever heard of Thomas Paine's historic pamphlet, "Common Sense," one of many documents written to incite the American colonists into breaking away from British colonial rule and establishing their own nation and government.  Mr. Peterson possessed an uncanny command of dialects and could transition flawlessly from one to another in an instant.  You were never certain of who he was at any given moment.  That only added to the fun of learning in his class.

While it brought incredulous stares and a few snickers from some of my classmates, I personally delighted in his Shakespearean performances.  I enjoyed my first tastes of Hamlet, As You Like It (Mr. Peterson's personal favorite), Macbeth, and King Lear thanks to him.  The man's capacity for knowledge was astounding.

My practice of recreating scenes during my writing sessions likely stems from my experience with Mr. Peterson.  While writing Child of Privilege, I actually acted out certain key scenes, scrutinizing my characters' dialogue, movements, positioning, timing, and vocalization.  Now, a scene must "feel real" in my living room before it's allowed into the final manuscript.

This innovative teacher also brought a roll of pennies to each class.  When you answered a question correctly, he would toss you a penny, along with the promise that it would bring you good luck if you worked hard at whatever you pursued in life.        

Thanks, Mister Peterson.  Thanks for the Civics lessons, the American History lessons, the Shakespeare lessons, and the life lessons.  Thanks for the lessons in the value and relevance of literature in our lives.  Most of all, sir, thanks for impressing upon me the value of lifelong learning and how much fun it can be.


There are bosses who are nothing more than that: bosses.  They tell you what to do and you do it while counting the minutes until quitting time. 

Then there was Chuck, a Data Processing Manager (that's what they were called back in those days) for a major publishing company.  He wasn't a company man; he wasn't a "yes" man; he wasn't a micro-manager; he wasn't a slave-driver.  Rather, he was a shrewd judge of people and a born leader ... and I thank my lucky stars for the good fortune of having worked for him.

When I first started working for him, I was taking computer theory and business programming night classes at a nearby community college and I thought I knew something ... and my treatment of my co-workers reflected it.  To this day, I suspect that more than one of them may have commented privately to Chuck about my condescending attitude toward them.  When I wasn't busy being a jerk, I could usually be found absorbed in one of the department's many technical manuals and programming books.

My stupidity lasted a grand total of five days until I pushed the wrong button at the wrong time on the computer and promptly plunged the department into eight hours of unplanned downtime.  It took hours of needless extra work by Chuck, myself, the in-house programmer, and the eight keypunch machine operators to get the computer operational again.

Time to start looking for a new job, I feared.

Once the department was functional again, Chuck called me into his office.  I knew what was coming.  I walked in, quickly apologized, and offered my resignation.  "Nobody quits on me," he countered.  "I fire people.  And I'm not in the mood to fire you today ... not even after that dumb-ass mistake you just made.  Besides, I've noticed how much time you spend with your nose in those programming manuals; and I've seen some of your test programs.  You show some potential, and I might be needing another programmer someday.  Who knows?  If you continue with your programming studies--and, more importantly, promise to stop being such an ass-wipe--I'll give you another chance."

Thanks ... I think.

"Now that you realize what a dumb s*** you've been, I'd suggest you get your ass out there and apologize for the extra work you made for the keypunch girls.  Then learn how to keypunch; they'll teach you, and they'll probably get a good laugh out of it.  Then learn our daily operations from top to bottom.  Learn how the department works and how we all get along and depend on each other to get our work done.  Put in your time, pay your dues, treat people with a little kindness, and it'll pay off for you in the long run."  He challenged me with a look that I came to know well through the years.  "You still wanna quit?"

With that inauspicious start began eight years of the best job I'd ever known with the best colleagues and the best boss I'd ever known.  Over the years, I came to regard Chuck as a friend as well as a manager.  It wasn't all that long before he did indeed promote me to in-house programmer where I remained for the rest of my tenure with the company. 

Our department eventually gelled into an extended family.  We celebrated holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, lunch-hour pizza pig-outs, "Secret Santa" parties, and the many funny moments that made life in a fast-paced, crowded, and noisy computer room a bit more tolerable.  Chuck managed the room sometimes with an iron fist, sometimes with kid gloves ... whichever was needed.  He was a capable, practical, seat-of-the-pants psychologist who instinctively knew how to get the best from his team.  And he made it easy for us to give him our best.

After Chuck eventually retired from the company, I moved on to other opportunities.  But I'll always be grateful to him for providing me with the foundation for a satisfying, twenty-plus-year career in software development as it's known today.

I was saddened to learn that Chuck had passed away a few years ago.  I think of him often and take a moment to realize just how lucky I was, especially when I read or hear about "bosses from hell" horror stories.

Thanks, Chuck for being the best damned boss I'd ever worked for ... even when I was so busy being an ass-wipe.   

I've been indeed blessed to know these--and many other--wonderful people who gifted me with their time, their wisdom, and their talents.  For the rest of my days, I'll value their kindnesses--and their memories--as precious possessions.

What about you?  Are there special folks like Ed, Mrs. Porter, Mr. Peterson, and Chuck in your past?  Maybe in your present?  Hopefully, in your future?  Take a moment to remember them--and thank them--either in person or in your thoughts.

A boost upward on life's ladder is a precious gift ...  almost as precious as the wonderful folks who give them.